What You See Isn’t Always What You Get

His name was Michael, and the year was 1993. I was a youth pastor in Georgia, and had heard through a another YP that Michael, who was going to be helping us with a local function, was simply “out-of-this-world” when it comes to youth work. Whatever needed doing, I was informed he would be willing and able.

Immediately my mind started racing, painting pictures of a tall, tanned young man with a muscular build. I imagined him as having the loyalty and love of hundreds of teens, being a fabulous speaker, and driving a sports car. In my mind he was single, rich, and totally satisfied with everything in his ministry. But what we think will be is not always what is.
At our initial meeting, it actually took me several minutes before I finally realized to whom I was talking. This can’t be the same guy I heard about? I thought. Unbelievably, he was not like anything I had imagined. Oh, he was tall, but his arms were lanky. He was a bit overweight, and drove up in a Ford Festiva (out of which he humorously unfolded). He had to live on a budget, watch his diet, and work late. In other words, he was just like me. And you. And most other people. He wasn’t Superman, Batman, or the Hulk. And his wife wasn’t Wonder Woman, either.

Yet, what I had been told was partly true. He did have a super youth ministry, teens who loved him dearly, and a zeal and desire to really make an impact on young people. He did have the things that mattered, the things that count for eternity.

So why did I paint images – false images – of what I thought he would be? Could it be that we are geared to believe that successful people in God’s eyes must first be successful in man’s eyes? What is it that ignites the spirit of God in a man — appearance, riches, performance? Or rather humility, grace, and submission? I was about to learn.

When the meeting was over Michael and I had a chance to talk and fellowship. And over the next few months we became friends. Since we were ministering in the same community, lunch was a weekly thing for us, as well as local seminars and prayer breakfasts. Over the course of time I came to realize that Michael was just like me (can you believe it?) He had problems just like I did. He had worries just like I did. He fought battles just like I did. He failed just like I did. He was actually human.

Like a speeding train rushing by, the wind of what I had just come to realize blew me away. It’s not the things on the outside that make much difference to God; it’s our heart, and its condition. Being used by God depends not upon our appearance, our talents, or our ability; it depends upon one thing: Our availability. When we make ourselves humbly available, God then has an open door to work in us and through us. Nothing more is required. Nothing less.

Isn’t this the point in I Samuel 16? Remember the story? The prophet Samuel has come to Jesse’s home to anoint the future King. Due to Saul’s disobedience and failure because of pride, Israel was in need of a leader. And so God told Samuel to go to the household of Jesse and he would find the future king there.

Jesse is ready, lining up his sons one by one. From the first to the last, they are there, each positive they will be the chosen one. Samuel comes, and after a close inspection, is puzzled by the fact that none have been chosen. He then asks Jesse if there are any more. And suddenly we have an unbelievable incident occurring before our eyes, a chance to see from God’s perspective what is really important. David is brought in from the field, and God speaks loudly and clearly: “This is the one.” Instead of the older ones, the stronger ones, or the obvious ones, God chose the youngest one, the one that everyone else overlooked. Seemingly, God works that way, doesn’t He? The ones we overlook and disregard are the ones He often looks to as His servants and workers.

The longer I am in the ministry, the more I realize that our human perspective is blurred. Really blurred. We look for talent, beauty, ability, and skill. God looks for willingness, heart, love and submission. When He finds that in a person, regardless of what others say, He will use them mightily. The power of God loves a willing heart in which to explode. No matter what men may say, if we are willing, God can use us. Not because of our talent, but in spite of it. Not because of our greatness, but in spite of it. Truly our greatest ability is availability.

Frankly, what we see isn’t always what we get. What we may see is a small child, a noisy teenager, a restless young person, a distracted, disruptive little brat. But what God sees may be totally different. Be careful not to focus so much on the outside that you miss the potential lying dormant on the inside. In God’s economy, our outward performance and ability are not nearly as important as our inward humility and availability.

1. Can you recall a time when you misinterpreted an outward appearance? How did the initial experience affect you?

2. What we see on the outside can often fool us. Read Acts 8:14-24. Do you think Peter initially believed Simon’s outward intentions?

3. When did you last fall prey to appearance-based judgments, whether positive or negative?
What measuring stick can you use if you can’t “judge a book by its cover?”

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